Sunday March 6, 2016
The scene outside (and inside) the ship by the gangway is confused. The ship has arrived late -- by nearly one half hour. Held up by thick fog. We find our driver and our guide right away and we are off. First thing that I notice is that our driver is a big fan of unnecessary/preventative beeping. He is a cautious driver (seems to be overly conscious of our speed which makes me wonder, "Are we avoiding an encounter with the police for some reason?"). He is also one of those herky-jerky types who alternates between vigorous acceleration and braking with very little time spent in between. This is one of R's pet peeves.
The houses and stores are mostly tall and narrow. Their concrete construction with European embellishments remind me of Mexico. It's a style I think of as "tropical concrete" and it's especially prevalent in areas where there are typhoons or hurricanes.
Our guide tells us that the country is still Communist and this comes as a surprise to me. It certainly doesn't seem communist but I suppose it's the old "communism with capitalist features".
There is lots of road construction to and from our destination -- Hue which was was the last capitol from 1802-1945. The road is just so-so with lots of local traffic. There seem to be different road rules here as our blinker gets turned on and off seemingly at random.
Our guide's voice is not very expressive but he is knowledgable. He is especially good for us because he gives us brief comments that are to the point and then he lets us do our own thing (wander off, take photos, etc.) Our first stop is a royal burial park. Later we visit the imperial city. Both are well worth the visit.
Lunch is at a French restaurant that predictably is chockablock with French speaking tourists. Even so, we pass a nice lunch there as it had atmosphere, good air circulation and tasty food. Back in the car, we all decide, "Let's go back to ship".
On the two hour drive back to the ship I notice nobody seems to wear shorts here. They do however use lots of surgical masks. "Is this to avoid pollution?" I ask our guide. "No", he replies, it is to keep their skin fair. And that's when I notice that the women especially are covered from head to toe (literally) in order to avoid the sun. It looks awfully hot to me. It's funny how fair people tan to get darker while darker complected people cover up to stay light.
R asks "Do you have any music you could put on?" and now I am faced with the prospect of two hours of techno/dance/electronica music (in Vietnamese no less). Fortunately this was, in short order, changed to some pop drivel with a country (?!) feel and then later to nothing at all. Saved.
We see lots of Vietnamese flags flying on houses and alongside the roadside. A truckload of pigs passes in the other direction and I notice water buffaloes and cows in the rice paddies. "Amateur" fish farming is also taking place while elsewhere fishing nets are suspended on poles above (?) the water.
Our guide says something about a village nearby which was the scene of the Mai Lai massacre. "You're familiar with that?" he asks. "Yes, of course" we assure him but still it makes me wonder, "Was it really necessary to bring that up?"
We get back to the ship a little after four giving us time to rest before dinner. It's been a successful first day in Vietnam.